One of the best cheap drones under $100 is a good way to learn about the fundamentals of flight before stepping up to a more expensive model. After all, you don't want to risk crashing a pricier drone while you're still figuring out how to fly it.
Cheap drones have come a long way since the beginning: they're now much easier to control, and a good number even have cameras, so you can record your exploits. Many models can be used both indoors and outdoors, too.
But, there are good cheap drones and bad cheap drones. That's why we tested and flew dozens of drones under $100 and evaluated them based on design, ease of use, features and overall fun. Even better: All are small and light, so you don't need to register them with the FAA.
If you're looking for something more advanced, be sure to check out our best drones page.
The best cheap drones you can buy today
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Not only is the Ryze Tech Tello a fun drone to fly, but it's designed to help kids learn to program by dropping blocks of code, LEGO-style into an app, using the Scratch programming language. There's a bit of a learning curve, though, so children may need some guidance on just how to program the Tello.
Designed by DJI, the Tello is a light but solidly built drone, with an electronically stabilized camera that can record video at 720p/30 fps and take 5MP photos. Ryze advertises the Tello has being able to fly for up to 13 minutes on a charge, but we found its flight time to be about half that. Either way, it's worth investing in a few spare batteries. The Tello also does not come with a physical remote control, so you'll have to use your smartphone (Android and iOS), unless you want to spend an extra $50 on a controller.
The Tello is available in a few different colors; there's even an Iron Man-branded model for Marvel fanatics.
The Holy Stone HS110D makes our list of the best cheap drones because it's one of the few at this price that has a 1080p camera; while not up to the same level as a DJI drone, it does provide better video quality than other drones on this page, making it a good starter for aspiring videographers.
Like many of the other cheap drones on this list, flight time is around eight minutes, which is decent for a drone at this price. We also like that the company includes two batteries, so your downtime isn't too great. And, this drone is pretty easy to fly, too.
Read our full Holy Stone HS110D review.
The Force1 U818A is one of the larger of the best cheap drones, but most of this size is due to the built-in rotor blade guards. That’s a good thing for novice fliers: the circular blade protectors save the blades from being damaged by sticks, fingers and more. The lightweight plastic case is flimsy, and feels like it would easily break in a moderate-speed collision.
The camera hangs below the center of the drone, and can be angled manually to point from straight ahead to about 30-degrees down. Its camera can record video at a 720p resolution, stored on the microSD card that fits into the back of the camera body. The accompanying app (available for both iOS and Android) can control the drone and shows a 480P resolution video preview. This can be switched to 720p, but that gets a little glitchy when the drone is more than 20 to 25 feet away.
The U818A flies well, hovering when you release the control sticks on the small remote, but turning and banking quickly when you maneuver it around. It isn’t particularly fast, though. You get about 8 to 10 minutes of flight time from its 350mAh battery, and two are included. This combination of maneuverability, stability and battery life makes it a great pick for those who are more interested in video than aerobatics.
Looking for an inexpensive drone to learn the basics? The Tomzon A31 is the best drone for the job, offering a great selection of features for the flier who wants more without spending more than $50. The no-frills A31 lacks a camera, but it's fast and maneuverable. And, it has some LED lights at the base of each propeller, making it fun to fly day or night.
We also liked its sturdy blade guards, which help keep it in one piece if it crashes into something. However, it has a short battery life of around 7-8 minutes, but it comes with a spare battery, so you can keep the fun going longer.
Read our full Tomzon A31 drone review.
The Force is with the Star Wars-themed drone, which initially cost nearly $200, but now can be had for less than $50. The controller that comes with the Propel TIE X1 Advanced not only lets you perform flips and other tricks, but has a number of sound effects and audio clips from the original trilogy. It all comes in an impressive box that plays the Star Wars theme when you open it up.
The details on the TIE X1 are pretty good, and it even looks like the ship has seen a bit of wear and tear. In flight, it's fast enough to make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. Propel also makes an X-Wing fighter version of this drone, as well as a Speeder bike, complete with Storm Trooper. Even better, infrared lights and sensors inside each drone let you battle with other Propel Star Wars drones; when you "hit" another drone, it will spin in the air. Too bad these drones lack cameras to capture video of your dogfights, but otherwise, they're great fun for Star Wars fans.
Read our full Propel TIE X1 Advanced drone review.
The PowerUp 4.0 takes paper airplanes to the next level. This little kit attaches to an ordinary airplane, and thanks to a pair of propellers, lets you pilot the plane from your smartphone. The kit comes with four pieces of paper with an airplane pattern, but you can also download patterns for free from the company's website.
As we found in our PowerUp 4.0 review, there's a bit of a learning curve and you'll need a lot of space to fly the plane. But once you get the hang of it, you'll be surprised at how far it will go.
Read our full PowerUp 4.0 review.
Do you like DJI's drones, but can't afford them? Snaptain's A15H is “inspired” by the design of the DJI Mavic Mini, right down to the way the arms fold up, but costs a quarter of the price. The A15H is a fun drone to fly, and has some neat tricks, like the ability to flip 360 degrees in the air. The controller is powered by 3 AAA batteries and looks like an XBox controller that’s been attacked by a button bedazzler: there are 16 buttons in addition to the two control sticks.
While the video is captured in 720P resolution, it's grainy and blurry, even in bright light. There is no gimbal stabilization on the camera, so you only get a straight-ahead view that bumps and shakes as the drone maneuvers. It also has a serious case of rolling shutter, where video looks wobbly.
The A15H's battery only holds about 800 mAH of charge, so you only get about five minutes of flight time. You do get two batteries, though.
The Snaptain S5C has a neat, angular design complete with rather bright red and green LEDs near the motors. However, the large rotor blades are somewhat noisy in flight. The S5C can be controlled from the included controller, through the Snaptain Era app, or through hand gestures: Select this in the app, then make a two-finger victory sign at the camera and it counts down and takes a photo. Hold up an open hand with the fingers extended and it starts recording video. Do that again, and it stops recording. It’s surprisingly effective.
The S5C captures video at 1280 by 720 (720P) resolution, but the video is rather grainy and noisy. There is no image stabilization, so every bump and dip of the drone is captured, along with a pronounced rolling shutter effect, where the video looks like wobbly jell-o.
Even though the S5C is light — it gets blown off course easily —it's underpowered. Set the drone flying forwards, and it loses altitude because the motors can’t run fast enough to keep the altitude up. The S5C comes with two matchbook-sized rechargeable batteries, each of which can power the drone for about 7 to 8 minutes of flight.
Some people may be fine with paying $20 for a fancy sandwich, but what about a drone? Laying down a Jackson will get you the no-frills GoolRC T36 drone. At just over 3 inches wide, it's tiny but surprisingly tough, with blade protectors around the rotors and a 3-minute flight time from the tiny, 190-mAh rechargeable battery. The drone comes with a spare set of rotor blades, two lithium-ion batteries and a charger, while its diminutive remote is powered by three AAA batteries.
The T36 is a fun drone to fly, with a decent amount of speed and maneuverability. It is bare-bones, though: There's no camera, only a few simple stunts and no GPS. It does include a feature called "return-to-home," but that's just a fancy name for a mode that sets the drone to fly in only one direction and then return when you push the right stick up. Still, it's a fun little drone, and for $20, there won't be too many tears if it gets lost up a tree.
The Potensic A20 is a cute little drone that has a surprising number of features for $40. There's no camera, but you do get auto takeoff and landing, as well as an altitude- and heading-hold mode. The latter two make it easier to learn to fly by handling takeoff and keeping the altitude or heading (the direction in which the drone is pointing) fixed while allowing you to maneuver in other ways.
These are a big help for the novice pilot, as they make it much easier to figure out how the different controls interact with one another. The A20 is not a fast drone, though, and it is easily buffeted by breezes and drafts. It's fairly zippy when you engage the higher-power modes, but with about 5 minutes of flight time, you don't get much time to practice. Fortunately, it comes with two batteries.
How to choose the best cheap drone for you or your kid
When shopping for a cheap drone under $100, you're going to have to make some compromises, but that doesn't mean you can't find a good drone at this price. There are dozens upon dozens of models available at Amazon and other retailers, so it's important to know what to look for.
The flight time for most cheap drones rarely exceeds 10 minutes, and it often takes upwards of half an hour to recharge their batteries. You'll want to buy a drone that has a removable battery, and then purchase at least two spare batteries so that you can spend more than a few minutes flying a drone before you have to go back inside for the rest of the day. Often, some of the best cheap drones will come with more than one battery.
Many cheap drones now come equipped with cameras, so you can shoot aerial photos and videos. However, unlike top-end drones, the cameras in these models are pretty basic; most have a resolution of 720, whereas the best drones can shoot in 4K or higher. Also, the cameras on cheap drones are usually not mounted on a gimbal, so footage is likely to be a little shaky, and the quality will be worse than what you'll find on most smartphones. But, it should provide you with a pretty fun experience nonetheless.
Indoors or outdoors?
Consider where you or your child is planning to use a drone. Small, handheld drones are great for indoor use, as you can fly them around a room without worrying too much about running into things. However, if you take a smaller drone outdoors, it's more likely to get blown around by the wind, making it a lot harder to control.
If you're buying a drone for your kid, we also recommend drones that have easily replaceable rotors, as well as optional propeller guards. Your child is going to smash the drone into a tree, wall, or some other object, so prop guards and replacement rotors will help keep your purchase from becoming a worthless piece of junk after its first crash.
How we test drones
Testing the best cheap drones under $100 is similar to testing more expensive drones. We take them out and fly them!
Of course, we don't expect drones that cost less than $100 to perform the same as ones that cost four, or ten times as much, so we temper our expectations accordingly.
Still, we expect a cheap drone to be relatively easy to fly and able to hover smoothly in the air. Considering that many are geared towards children and novice fliers, you shouldn't have to spend all your effort just trying to keep the drone steady.
Increasingly, cheap drones have cameras, and while their resolution and capabilities are more limited, we test these cameras too to see how they compare to similarly priced drones. We don't expect the sharpest pictures and video, but you should be able to make out details clearly.
As mentioned, cheap drones don't have the longest flight times — you can expect 15 minutes, tops — but we also evaluate the companies' claims versus reality, as conditions, such as even mildly windy days, can negatively affect performance.
Most of all, though, the drone should be fun to fly.
For more information on our reviews process, check out the Tom's Guide How We Test page.